LINCOLN HIGH SCHOOL — With 5:54 left in the third quarter on Wednesday, Lincoln guard Joseph Fox pushed the ball up court off a Gage Cross block and into the hands of Pajri Samhi. Samhi stepped up and hit a rhythm three, getting the Mustangs within two points of Washington, after trailing by as many as nine in the first half.
He turned and waved his arms up and down, exhorting the home crowd to get into the game. They responded, and so did teammate Joseph Fox.
Fox, a 5-foot-11 sophomore, went 4-of-5 from beyond the arc in the second half, scoring 12 of his 13 points after the break as the Mustangs came back for a 69-59 win, moving them to 6-0 in Academic Athletic Association play.
“When stuff goes like that, you’ve just got to get the crowd into it,” Samhi said. “The adrenaline, the rush you get, that’s the game.”
Fox wasn’t the only Lincoln shooter to overcome a largely silent first half to explode in the second. After going 3-for-13 in the first half, freshman point guard Jordan Aquino finished with a game-high 25 points on 9-of-21 shooting.
“This is a big week for us,” said Mustangs head coach Carl Jacobs. “We’ve got three games this week, coming off two games where the starters didn’t get to play too much, so we knew it would be kind of rusty. We just have to stick with our pressure. Our pressure gets us a little offense. As long as we pressured, I wasn’t worried about our shooting. I knew that was going to come around.”
Over the first five and a half minutes, though, the Mustangs went 0-for-10 as Washington (8-12, 4-2 in AAA) built an 8-1 lead. A steal and a transition bucket by Aquino broke the drought, but Lincoln trailed 10-5 after their dismal first quarter.
“At halftime, I told them, our shots aren’t falling, but that was the last thing I was worried about,” Jacobs said. “I was more worried about our defense, which wasn’t that bad, but they were getting a lot of easy shots. I said, ‘Don’t worry about the shots. They’re going to fall. Just start taking good shots.’ We were rushing it. Once we settled down, our shots started to fall.”
The Eagles pulled ahead by as many as nine with 2:43 to go in the second quarter on a three by Jackie Luong. Luong let out a roar as he hit the floor after being fouled by Kauchani Heredia, and then sunk the and-one to make it 22-13. Despite that margin, the second quarter was a neck-and-neck affair, even with the explosive Aquino going just 2-for-9.
Fox hit a three in the left corner with under 10 seconds to go before the half, a small preview of what the Mustangs had in store as they went into the locker room down 24-18.
Fox had missed each of his first three shots, including a pair of 3-pointers. Samhi had gone 0-for-7 from the field (including 0-for-3 from three) in the first half, but did have four points and six rebounds. The pair got going in earnest once the second half dawned, with Fox stripping Josh Kardon and getting the ball up to Samhi for the transition lay-up, cutting the lead to 27-22.
A steal by Shakur Blaylock led to an up-and-under lay-up by Samhi, and Samhi’s rhythm three off the Cross block pulled the Mustangs within two.
“Going into halftime, we really got it together,” Samhi said. “When Fox and me start hitting those shots, everyone starts getting into it.”
A missed Fox three resulted in a put-back for Samhi — who finished with 15 points and seven rebounds — tying things at 29-29 with five minutes to go in the quarter. Lincoln and Washington traded leads back and forth, with a lay-up from Samhi putting Lincoln up 45-44, only for Luong to hit a tear-drop lay-up of his own to give Washington the lead, 46-45 headed into the final stanza.
“Fox has been off a little bit, but when the game is on the line, that’s a guy, even though he’s a sophomore, I don’t know what he has running through his veins, but he wants the big shot,” Jacobs said. “He wants to be in that moment.”
To start the fourth quarter, Fox spun away from a near steal to bury a three, giving Lincoln (13-7, 6-0) a 48-46 lead. That touched off a 9-3 run, which included a three from Fox and a pair of lay-ups by Aquino. From the end of the first half through that run, Aquino — who had eight points in the first half — went 4-for-6 for 11 points.
“We take the bad with the good with him,” Jacobs said. “He is coachable, and he will listen, but he wants to win, and he has to have drives. We don’t want to hold him back, but we want him to see, see and recognize things a little bit more. He does a great job at that.”
A three by Fox at the top of the arc put the Mustangs up 60-51, and after a lay-up by Aranas, Aquino hit a lay-up and Lincoln forced a five-second violation. With 2:31 to go, Aquino split the lane between Aranas and Luong, sinking a lay-up and drawing a foul, putting the Mustangs up by nine.
Luong finished with 15 points and six rebounds. Aranas finished with 15 points and three boards.
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